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The Value of Therapy During Uncertain Times

The Value of Therapy During Uncertain Times

There's a reason we've worn out the word "unprecedented" talking about life in the year 2020. When we don't have a precedent to work from, we don't have an expert or example from history to show us the right thing to do. While pandemics and struggles for justice are not new, our modern era has added contexts and complications that we haven't had to deal with before. We've had to figure it out along the way, which means most of us have had to take flak for at least some of our choices even when we've been trying hard to do the right thing.


It's even harder for those of us struggling with mental health issues. When news reports, videos, and images of human suffering and loss are broadcast every hour on the news and social media; when people we care about are turning against one another in anger; and when the simplest tasks, like going to the grocery store, present us with threats to our health and well-being, it's hard not to feel anxious or depressed. We feel like we should be out there saving the world, but in truth, we're having a hard time just keeping it together at home.

We all have a role to play in the collective challenges we are facing, whether as professionals, parents, or citizens. The healthier we are in mind and body, the more fully we can participate in this historic moment we're all living through. This is why one of the best things those of us who are struggling can do right now is reach out for help. And while family, friends, groups, and communities are all important sources of support, they're not always enough, especially when we're dealing with complicated mental health issues and being triggered every day.


If there was ever a time to have a therapist as part of your personal care team, it's now. Therapy can make a huge difference in how you respond to upheaval and chaos, giving you coping tools and specialized support that you otherwise wouldn't have.


How Therapy Can Help When the World Is Unwell


When I was a social worker, it surprised me how often I had to explain to clients who were living through severe stress and trauma that their symptoms were not a sign of dysfunction, but the opposite. So many people couldn't understand that their natural reactions to loss, abuse, illness, financial hardship, injustice, or homelessness were healthy.


It might sound strange, but it's normal to feel depressed when you're living in a depressing environment. It's healthy to feel anxious if you're under threat. It means you're recognizing and responding to reality. It means you know in your heart and mind that something isn't right and that there is something you need to change, escape, or protect yourself from.


Right now, that's all of us. We know that the world is sick and that the places we normally go for solace aren't as safe right now. We know that there are things we can do to protect and care for ourselves and our loved ones, but we know none of them are a hundred percent effective. So, we feel anxious.


That doesn't mean there's nothing you can do to feel better. In fact, acknowledging that you are not alone, and that there is nothing wrong with you if you're not at your best right now, can be an important first step toward improving your mental health. It can help you set better and healthier boundaries and expectations and not blame yourself when you can't perform at the levels you normally do. Next, you can learn strategies to better manage and alleviate the understandably uncomfortable feelings and reactions you're having.


This is exactly what therapists are trained to do. They can help you learn how deal with thoughts and feelings in ways that are healthier and more adaptive than suppression or avoidance. In therapy, you can learn how to feel your feelings without getting stuck in them, and how to direct them toward helpful, instead of self-destructive, ends. Your therapist can also help you learn ways to find a stable center to return to when you start to feel overwhelmed.


One of the most important things therapists do is one of the simplest: give you a place where you can vent and work through things you don't feel comfortable talking to anyone else about. When so many people are so raw, hurt, afraid, and angry, it's even more difficult than usual to talk things out with them. In the safe space of a therapist's office, you can freely share what you think and feel with calm, steady support to help you work through it.


How to Find Affordable Therapy During the Pandemic


At OpenCounseling, we know it can be difficult to find affordable therapy, and it's our mission to make it easier. It's why our founder, Mark Pines, put so much effort into building a local—and then a national—database of affordable therapy providers. We're proud of the tools our site offers to help people find therapy they can afford.


Unfortunately, affordable therapy resources are more limited than usual right now. Many non-profits and publicly-funded mental health providers have stripped back their services to protect both clients and workers from the pandemic. Some private practitioners who were accepting new clients before COVID-19 have stopped accepting new clients. Others have moved their services to online-only.


As always, the easiest way to find out what a particular provider is offering right now is to call. In many cases, if an organization or individual you call can't help you, they can refer you to someone who can. Another good option to consider is an online provider. Online therapy companies like our sponsor, BetterHelp, are already set up to connect people with therapists remotely, and some therapists have temporarily shifted into independent online practices using Zoom, Skype, and other accessible streaming video technology. Just keep in mind that you can only receive online therapy from someone licensed to practice in the state where you live.


Another option to consider is a local practitioner who is still offering in-person sessions. Some therapists may be comfortable meeting with new clients in person as long as clients (and they) wear a mask. Others might agree to start seeing you via video, then move to in-person sessions when circumstances allow. This means that you can benefit from the convenience of online therapy now when you need it most and from the intimacy of in-person sessions later. Many therapists in private practice offer sliding scales to help make therapy easier to afford.


Even some non-profits and publicly-funded providers are offering video or other distance therapy services right now. Flexible therapy offered both in-person and via video is likely to become more common as the pandemic continues.


How to Get the Most Out of Therapy Right Now

Therapy is always complicated, but it's a little more complicated than usual right now. If you can find a local therapist accepting new clients for in-person sessions, chances are good you'll be asked to wear a mask or engage in other health safety protocols. This can be alienating and stressful. As with anything, the best way to cope is to talk to your therapist about it. You may find that addressing your discomforts in the therapy room gives you perspective on discomforts you've been dealing with outside of it.


If you're participating in therapy via video, especially if it's your first time, you'll need to adapt in different ways. To get the most out of online therapy, it's best to have a good high-speed internet connection. Even if you do, you may still have to deal with issues like lag or occasional drops in video quality. You're also more likely to face distractions like barking dogs or crying children than you would in a therapist's office. If you can, try to arrange childcare for when you're in session, and keep your pets out of the room if they're a distraction instead of a comfort.


Fortunately, such distractions should only have a subtle effect on your experience in therapy. Your therapist can still see and respond to your verbal and nonverbal communication in real time and use all of the techniques and methods they normally use. The biggest factor determining the effectiveness of online therapy is the same as it would be if you were getting therapy in person: how engaged you are. If you're motivated to do the work both in and out of the therapy session, you'll get a lot more out of it than if you're passive and don't apply what you're learning.


Balancing the Personal and Global in Therapy 


It can be confusing to know what to focus on in therapy when serious global issues loom large in the background. You might wonder, "Do my small dreams and personal goals really matter in a time like this?" The simplest answer is yes, they do. No one can give sustainably when they're trying to draw from an empty well. If you're caring for ill loved ones, you need support, too.


As you come to understand yourself better, you're likely to gain perspective on how you can best contribute and participate in a changing world. You're also more likely to find the energy and drive to do it. Take the time to process global events as you need to, but have the confidence that taking care of yourself in therapy isn't selfish. It's a gift to both yourself and the world.


That said, even if you have no reservations about focusing on your personal healing, you might find it difficult to do. Collective anxieties and large-scale grief can affect the therapy process. You might find that you were making progress and feeling better, only for a week of bad news to drain you, drop your mood, and increase your anxiety. This can make you feel like you've regressed.


If this happens, don't get discouraged. Take heart in the fact that healing is not a linear process and that you're probably getting through these hard times better than you would have without the support of therapy. Increased empathy and compassion are signs of healing, and the more you can manage and maintain caring feelings toward yourself, the more you'll find yourself caring about others, too. At first, this can make you feel worse than when you were numb or blocking it out, but over time, you'll find yourself capable of keeping your heart open to others while remaining centered and connected to your own personal sources of hope and happiness.




There's never been a better time to get therapy than right now. The year 2020 has been a hard year for people around the globe, and we all need as much support as we can find. The pandemic has made the outside world more difficult to navigate but has given us greater access than ever before to online services, including online therapy. Whether you're using an established online therapy provider like BetterHelp (a sponsor) or getting streaming video sessions from a local therapist who's temporarily set up an online practice, there are many benefits to connecting to a therapist from the comfort and safety of your own home.


It's not easy to make progress in therapy when the world is in a state of upheaval, but it's possible. In the same way therapy can help connect you to your own sense of goodness, it can help you find signs of hope in a troubled world. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we all yearn for healing. We want to feel better and we want the world to be better. We want to live in a world with clean air, social and racial justice, flourishing plants and animals, and accessible medical and mental health care. We want a world where we all can breathe. We know better than ever now how deeply our individual healing is connected to our collective healing.


So, if you're feeling drawn to pursue your own healing on a deeper level right now in therapy, embrace it. Your mental health can guard your physical health and help your light shine a little brighter in your own corner of the world.

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Stephanie Hairston, MSW
Posted on 06/07/2020 by Stephanie Hairston, MSW

Stephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. As a masters-level clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments. She has also worked as a technical writer for a medical software company and as an editor for a company that appeals denials of insurance coverage for behavioral health treatment. As a writer, she is motivated by the same desire to help others that brought her into the field of social work and believes that knowledge is one of the most essential recovery tools. She strongly believes in the mission of OpenCounseling and in making therapy accessible for everyone.